By Guest Blogger Katie Myers
There was a time, not too long ago, where I dreaded all seven days of the week. I got sick at the thought of doing laundry. Overwhelmed at the mere mention of being trapped in my house with two children. Two children home with me for what feels like the hundredth day because of another daycare illness. They’re bored. I’m desperately wanting to take a nap by myself but never have the opportunity. The dread of Monday morning becomes almost too much to bear.
It’s extremely hard to be a parent. It’s extremely hard to be a parent of two under 3. It’s another story entirely to be a parent with bipolar disorder.
I feel lucky in the sense that I’ve known that I’m bipolar since I was 16. I empathize with teens struggling with their own mental health and sympathize with parents who receive their diagnosis postpartum. It is frightening knowing your brain actively works against you at every turn. At times, the negative self-talk, manic hallucinations and depressive episodes became so overwhelming that I found myself locking my office door at work and sitting in the corner crying. I now work from home. I make a living teaching children of all ages how to communicate, knowing full well that there are days I can barely muster a cohesive sentence about my own thoughts and feelings. This is the nature of the disorder. It remains, even now, at my most stable, a most aggressive thief.
I’d love to tell you that being bipolar bears no change in the way I parent. I’d also love to think I parent just the same as everyone else: one minute at a time. Sometimes those minutes are long and sometimes they’re fleeting. You and I are the same. Except sometimes, when I’m stressed out, my intrusive thoughts make me think my husband has died in a car crash if he’s merely two minutes later than usual; or I think the school is going to call because my son has had a violent meltdown and can’t be controlled; or my daughter has fallen off the monkey bars and broken both of her legs, but they tell me, “you can’t go get her – you’ve been put on the no-release list at school because you’re out of control.” It’s everything that has never happened, every word that’s never been uttered to you or about you. It’s the worst party trick.
When I feel my roller coaster car getting ready to hit that first big drop, my children are always the first to notice. I have no energy to get off the couch, no energy to take them to the playground, and please do not ask me what to make you for lunch or dinner because of course, you’re both capable of making a sandwich or microwaving bagel bites. I hear a lot of “no one in this house ever has any fun!” from my 6-year-old, or “you never let us do anything!” from my 8-year-old. Sorry kids, today, your normal jumping on the couch activity is too much to bear and I’m in no shape to take you to the emergency room when you inevitably crack your skulls. I cannot risk being interviewed. I will be placed on a 24-hour psychiatric hold, of course.
But when that roller coaster car starts the uphill climb once more? Look out, it’s wander-lust mom! I can’t breathe within the four walls of my house anymore! We must leave. Immediately. I have no plans or ideas, but pack everyone in the car and we’ll figure it out when we get there. No, we don’t need to pack lunch, who gets hungry these days? Not me, certainly. Oh, the kids do? I guess I can throw together some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They’ll survive off that. We’ll spend an entire Saturday elsewhere and when I return, I feel no more refreshed or rejuvenated, so then I get angry. The unreasonable irritation at my ungrateful children (who had a blast at whichever cool science museum we visited and have not stopped talking about since we got in the car); the unholy mess that is this house (which, to be fair, is probably true, but it’s never as bad as I think it is); and my desperate need for both physical space and physical attention, which I’m sure, isn’t confusing at all to my husband.
This thief, this disorder, also tells me that I am the only person my children need in their life. I say mean things sometimes to my husband for no real reason at all, because I don’t have a filter when I’m feeling manic. The Thief smiles, knowing it’s convinced me yet again that I am the only real parent here. Being on a regular dosage of medication helps me recognize when I’m being unreasonably overprotective, unreasonably angry, or unreasonably mean. Medication, journaling, and my new hobby of crocheting help me stay grounded. I work from home now, and while I’m still learning how to balance work and life with blurred boundaries, I am so much better for it. I will be forever thankful for the opportunity to change that part of my life to be wholly present in the lives of my children more.
The reality is, and always will be, that this disorder steals lives. It has stolen parts of me that I will never get back, but it’s also taught me how to be a vigilant monitor of my children’s mental health. I know the signs and even though they’re 8 and 6, we practice tried and true grounding techniques using our five senses. I ask them about their relationships: do they feel like they are understood by their parents and friends? I ask them pointedly, “Do you ever feel like you don’t want to be here anymore?” They may not recognize it yet in themselves, but I was able to help my son when he started feeling intense loneliness and the desire to be “swallowed up by the earth.” It is imperative to me that my children not suffer the intense, indescribable pain I felt until I was finally stabilized. To this day, I can’t put into words what it felt like to live in slow motion when it felt like everyone else around you moved at the speed of light. It will kill me if they suffer the same way.
In the end, my experience is my own. I have learned to find opportunities for growth as a parent, wife, sister, daughter, and speech pathologist along my journey. I’ve learned to look in the mirror and to accept my bipolar disorder. I now take the steps I need to be a stable ship in the ocean for my children. It is by far the most important thing I can do for the good of my children. I am the only mother they have; they deserve me at my very best, my very stable, my very capable self. I hope, in time, they see just that.
If you’ve read this and related to it, if you’re found yourself looking in the mirror questioning the person starting back at you, know that with help, with a support system around you, and the right tools, you can reach the summit of your mountain. Mental health is not a straight line. It’s steep uphill climbs, rapid downhill tumbles, trying to find balance in it all. I am constantly reminded of the work that I must do every day to keep my stability, but I can honestly say that I’m happy, and I’ll do everything in my power to keep that feeling. For myself and for my children.
Postpartum Support International: postpartum.net
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